Campaign ends for high-stakes Kerala bypoll

The stage is set for a three-way face-off at Aruvikkara, the Assembly constituency that goes to polls on Saturday in what is seen as a high-voltage teaser ahead of next year’s Assembly election in Kerala. 

The election campaign had a formal closure late evening on Thursday with a winding-up celebration by activists belonging to the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), the opposition CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the BJP.

The by-election was announced following the death of Congress MLA and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly G Karthikeyan. The Congress has fielded Karthikeyan’s son K S Sabarinadhan with a proclaimed thrust on continuance, both in legacy and administration. The CPIM has gone for experience in fielding senior leader and former minister and Speaker M Vijayakumar. 

The presence of BJP veteran O Rajagopal who almost pulled off a stunning upset in last year’s Lok Sabha election from Thiruvananthapuram — Congress’ Shashi Tharoor won the poll — makes it an engaging triangular contest.

The Opposition, all through the bypoll campaign, highlighted persisting development issues in the constituency that has remained a Congress bastion; since 1991, Karthikeyan has won five successive elections from the constituency, four of them before delimitation. 

But the LDF is also pitching Aruvikkara as a pointer to next year’s Assembly elections and has continued to attack the government over recurring corruption scams. The Congress has tried to use the development plank while condemning the Left’s “politics of violence”. 

The BJP, by fielding its most popular leader in the state, is also looking beyond the fortunes of an also-ran. The party is facing its first big test after BJP president Amit Shah’s recent calls for greater cadre mobilisation in Kerala.

The election is particularly crucial for the Congress party that has, over the past couple of years, worked overtime to keep its squabbling factions and alliance partners on check. 

For the CPM, this is the first election after Kodiyeri Balakrishnan took over as the party’s state secretary. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has said the by-election result would reflect the people’s take on four years of the UDF government. 

The two ruling fronts raised pitch of verbal exchanges during final stages of the campaign with Leader of the Opposition V S Achuthanandan returning to trademark poll-season gusto.

The constituency that had all the three major parties launching extensive road-shows, also had its share of star presence with actor and Chalakkudy MP Innocent, actors Khushboo and Suresh Gopi campaigning for the CPM, Congress and BJP candidates respectively. 

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